This year voting in New York is easier than ever. We will have nine days of early voting prior to this Tuesday’s Election Day. In American history, however, achieving the right to vote has been a tremendous struggle.

At the founding of our Country under the Articles of Confederation and shortly thereafter under the original Constitution, the right to vote was set by each State and was usually limited to white men who owned property.

The 1828 Presidential election was the first in which non-property holding white males could vote in the vast majority of States, according to Wikipedia.

Slaves in the South counted as 3/5 of a person to determine each State’s population in determining how many House of Representatives members each slave state would have and, therefore, its Electoral College share.

President Grant used all of the adoration he had earned as our most successful Civil War general to succeed in getting the passage through Congress of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868 and the 15th Amendment in 1870 that were designed to give black voters a Federal guarantee of the right to vote.

President Grant’s efforts at reconstruction of the South tried to protect the new Constitutional right of former slaves to vote but Southern States put up countless barriers to black citizens. Southern states imposed poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and outright intimidation and violence to prevent blacks from voting.

The Presidential election of 1876 resulted in the Northern Republicans backing off their support of President Grant’s commitment to voting rights for 4,000,000 freed slaves.

It would take 95 years from the 1870 adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for the Federal Government to stop Southern states from discriminating against black voters.

Women began to organize to demand the right to vote after the Civil War. It would be a long, difficult fight.

In order to win the right to vote women would have to get at least 2/3 of Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment and then get the states to ratify the amendment.

While Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, the National Woman Suffrage Association was not formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony until 1869.

World War I and President Woodrow Wilson’s claim that we were fighting for democracy put pressure on Wilson to publicly support the right of women to vote. In 1918 President Wilson changed his position to support a Constitutional Amendment. It finally passed Congress in 1919 with the House voting 304 to 90 and the Senate 56 to 25.

Enough states ratified the 19th Amendment to allow women to vote for president in November 1920.

For almost 200 years only people 21 and older had the right to vote.

While serious discussion of lowering the voting age to 18 began during World War II when 18 year olds were drafted, another war apparently won 18 year olds the right to vote.

During the Vietnam War era between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2,200,000 young men between ages 18 and 26.

As the Vietnam War became more and more unpopular, the question of how the United States could draft 18 year olds to fight and die in Vietnam but deny them the right to vote became harder for Congress to ignore.

Apparently to try to reduce the hostility to the Vietnam War by young people, especially college students, in 1971 the Congress decided to pass the 26th Amendment to give everyone 18 and over the right to vote.

After all of these lengthy struggles by Americans to get the right to vote, by this Election Day, Tuesday, November 7, probably only about 30% of registered voters in Chautauqua County will take advantage of their precious right to vote.

Fred Larson is a graduate of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public And International Affairs and the Yale Law School. He is a retired Jamestown City Court judge.

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